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What can be understood by Freedom of Press under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution?

9 min read

By Neha Choudhary

Introduction 

The Constitution of India is one of the detailed texts in the world which provides the just and proper framework of the legislative authorities and lays down the structure, governmental procedure, their duties and powers, and guarantees each citizen with fundamental duties and certain rights which are explicitly mentioned as fundamental rights under Part III of the Constitution.

The Preamble of the Constitution itself speaks about the key and the paramount features of the Constitution i.e. sovereignty, democracy, justice, equality, liberty, freedom, socialism, secularism, and fraternity.

The basic right which is quoted by the preamble is freedom of thoughts and expression, belief and faith which the Constitution guarantees the citizens under the chapter fundamental rights.

Every citizen of the country is guarded by fundamental rights out of which Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech and expression mentioned under Article 19 is the significant one.

There are certain other rights specified under the clauses of Article 19 to protect the citizen’s freedom of speech, which is what this article discusses.

What is Article 19?

In a democratic country like India, safeguard of speech and expression plays a very influential role as to assure that each citizen of the country is enjoying its liberty, freedom, and an open forum of discussion as secured by the Constitution.

Thus, the freedom of speech has a critical aspect in social, political, and economic matters where public opinion is unavoidable.

Article 19(1) of the Constitution defines, Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech as to freedom of speech and expression, freedom to assemble peaceably and without arms, freedom to form associations or unions, freedom to move freely throughout the territory of India, freedom to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India and to practice any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business.

Freedom of speech provided under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution means the right to express any opinions[1] without censorship, restraint, or restriction and thus every citizen not just has the definitive right to make his point and opinion but he has the freedom to express as the similar held in the landmark case of Maneka Gandhi Vs Union of India[2] where the Court observed that:

Democracy is based essentially on free debate and open discussion. If democracy means the government of the people by the people, it is obvious that every citizen must be entitled to participate in the democratic process and in order to enable him to intelligently exercise his right of making a choice, free and general discussion of public matters is absolutely essential.”

The Constitution of India allows the applicability of various interpretations and thus Article 19(1)(a) being the part of the Constitution is open to the interpretations and therefore incorporates the rights of the citizen to express their opinions in whichever expression he wants and through any medium for example by words of mouth, writing, printing, picture, film, movie, etc.

Moreover, it also includes the freedom to communicate opinions and to even publish or propagate them.

There can be various other impressions for the freedom of speech and expression of an individual although this right shall comply with the reasonable restrictions mentioned under Article 19(2) of the Constitution.

In addition to the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the freedom to speech and expression also administers certain rights and freedom to the press under Article 19 (1)(a).

Unlike the Constitution of the United States, the Constitution of India does not explicitly mention the rights given to the press.

However, it can now be said through interpretations of the courts in precedents that “speech & expression” in Article 19(1) (a) includes freedom of the press as well which clears their authority to interfere to an extent and post their opinion in newspapers and media.

What is Freedom of Press under Article 19 (1)(a)?

The press as a medium of social, political, and economic culture is a fundamental aspect of any egalitarian country. The freedom of speech and expression is thus a basic to a democratic form of government and a significant right for the press to ensure the communication of facts of public life and means of expression.

The scope of Article 19 (1)(a) has been widened by the interpretations, creativity, judicial precedents and pronouncements, craftsmanship and thus has included certain aspects, which are:

  • Freedom of Press
  • Freedom of Commercial Speech
  • Right to Broadcast
  • Right to Information
  • Right to Criticize
  • Right to expression beyond national boundaries
  • Right not to speak
  • Right to remain silent

In India, the freedom to the press under Article 19 (1)(a) is not specifically mentioned as it has been voiced during the constituent assembly by the Chairman of the Drafting Committee Dr. B.R Ambedkar, that is not necessary to explicitly indicate the freedom of the press as it would be considered and treated same as an individual or a citizen as far as their right of expression was concerned.

Thus, any violation and restriction on any newspaper or media to opinionate and express or publish their views would be considered as an infringement of the fundamental right of speech and expression under Article 19 (1)(a).

One of the most important case in the history of freedom of the press under Article 19 (1)(a), Romesh Thaper Vs State of Madras[3]where the Court observed that:

Freedom of Speech and of Press lay at the foundation of all democratic organizations, for without free political discussion, no public education, so essential for the proper functioning of the process of Government, is possible.

In this case, the English journal “Cross Road” of Bombay was banned by the Madras Government and thus such inconsistent ban was held to be a violation of the right of the press to speak and express as “without liberty of circulation, publication would be of little value”

In the case of Indian Express Vs Union of India[4], the plea was filed against the notification specifying customs and auxiliary duty on the newsprint imported which was excessive and directly affected the reduction in the circulation due to increased prices and thus infringed their right under Article 19(1)(a).

Thus the Courts abrogated all laws and administrative actions that transgressed the freedom of the press and observed that it also includes freedom of publicationfreedom of circulation, and freedom against pre-censorship.

In the case of Brij Bhushan Vs the State of Delhi[5], the Chief Commissioner of Delhi directed the editor of an English weekly ‘The Organizer’ to submit scrutiny in duplicate before the publication all communal matters and news, views about Pakistan including photographs and cartoons.

The order was struck down as the violative of Art. 19(1)(a) and the Supreme Court upheld the liberty of the press and said pre-censorship is the violation of the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression and thus observed that such restrictions are not reasonable and sensible enough to fall under Article 19(2).

In another case, the activist of the recent amendment of Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019 were released from the prosecution as it was violative of the freedom of speech and expressions of the citizens as the freedom was guaranteed to express on social media under Article 19.

Even an order to reduce the existing number of pages or raising the price of the newspaper would be a violation and transgression of the right of speech and expression provided to the press under Article 19(1) (a) as the similar was held in the case of Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. Vs Union of India[6]where the press was entitled “To not just circulate but also the volume of circulation”.

In this case, the order passed by the central government fixed a minimum price and number of pages and thus was held to be an infringement. 

The right of the press to enjoy their freedom of speech and expression also includes their right to interview the prisoned convicted to death with a condition that the person is willing to be interviewed.

However, in case the opportunity to interview is denied, the reason should fall within the ambit of Article 19(2) and thus shall have to be recorded in writing.[7]

In the case of M. Hasan Vs State of Andhra Pradesh[8] where the news reporter was denied to interview a willing condemned to death prisoner and it was observed that it was an invalid denial as the reason established did not adhere to article 19 (2) and thus the Court held that “Such denial is deprivation of a citizen’s fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression”.

The commercial advertisements and commercial speech also form a part under the freedom of speech of the press and would only be restricted within the limitations mentioned in article 19(2) of the Constitution as has been held in the case of Tata Press Ltd. Vs Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.[9]

It was also observed that information through advertisements and commercials is an important part as it benefits the public at large and thus imperative.

Are there any restrictions on Freedom of Press? 

There is no doubt that each citizen of the country is guaranteed certain fundamental rights for their security but with every right, there are certain restrictions as well as there is no absolute freedom. The same principle also applies to freedom of the press to speech and expression under Article 19 (1)(a).

This right of the press is also subjected to certain reasonable restrictions and limitations mentioned under article 19(2) of the Constitution. The grounds mentioned under article 19(2) are:-

  • Sovereignty & Integrity of India
  • Security of the State
  • Friendly relations with the Foreign States
  • Public Order
  • Decency or Morality
  • Contempt of Court

In a pronouncement, the Court stated that the freedom of speech in case of the press cannot be taken away to restrict the person’s business and only those activities which do not adhere to the restrictions mentioned in article 19(2) would be barred and that restriction would not be a violation of the fundamental right.

In the case of Hamdard Dawakhana Vs Union of India[10], the Supreme Court held that advertisement being a form of speech shall comply with the restrictions and its true sense needs to be determined as to what object it seeks to publicize.

In this case, there was an advertisement on drugs and commodities in question which was not in accordance with the public interest and thus it was held that such advertisement cannot be protected under Article 19(1)(a).

With the discussion of all the rights that the press is entitled to, the interference of the media in the trial or administration of justice cannot be left uncovered as the trail by the media and their intervention is neither freedom nor can be said as a restriction.

Thus, such a case can be understood through the judgment of M. P. Lohia Vs State of West Bengal,[11] where it was held that trial by the media and the article published in the magazine based on the interview of the family of the deceased who committed suicide due to harassment by the accused was said to be interference as the material facts given in the article were essential for the ongoing trial and thus court cautioned the publisher for that article.

Conclusion

Every citizen of India is guaranteed certain fundamental rights which are explicitly mentioned in Part III of the Constitution. The most important fundamental rights out of them for a socialist country like India is provided under article 19 i.e. freedom to speech and expression.

The judicial pronouncements have however widened the scope and ambit of the article which thereby means that even though certain rights are not mentioned under this article, would still be applicable and would be open to interpretations.

One of such kind is the right of the press of speech and expression which is not just a right provided to the press but also a freedom to speak and opinionate and express their views on the social platforms.

However, these rights are not absolute as article 19(2) sets certain limitations and restrictions which include Public Order, security of the state, morality, etc.

References

  1. Mariam Webster dictionary
  2. Maneka Gandhi Vs Union of India, 1978 AIR 597
  3. Romesh Thaper Vs State of Madras, 1950 AIR 124
  4. Indian Express Vs Union of India, (1985) 1 SCC 641
  5. Brij Bhushan Vs the State of Delhi, 1950 AIR 129
  6. Sakal Papers (P) Ltd. Vs Union of India, WRIT PETITION (CRIMINAL) NO.167 OF 2012
  7. Smt. Prabha Dutt Vs Union of India, 6 1982 SCR (1)1184
  8. M. Hasan Vs State of Andhra Pradesh, AIR 1998 AP 35
  9. Tata Press Ltd. Vs Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd., 1995 AIR 2438
  10. Hamdard Dawakhana Vs Union of India, 1960 AIR 554
  11. M. P. Lohia Vs State of West Bengal, AIR 2005 SC 790